Federal use of A.I. in visa applications could breach human rights, report says

Impacts of automated decision-making involving immigration applications and how errors and assumptions could lead to “life-and-death ramifications”

OTTAWA — A new report is warning about the federal government’s interest in using artificial intelligence to screen and process immigrant files, saying it could create discrimination, as well as privacy and human rights breaches.

The research, conducted by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab outlines the impacts of automated decision-making involving immigration applications and how errors and assumptions within the technology could lead to “life-and-death ramifications” for immigrants and refugees.

The authors of the report issue a list of seven recommendations calling for greater transparency and public reporting and oversight on government’s use of artificial intelligence and predictive analytics to automate certain activities involving immigrant and visitor applications.

“We know that the government is experimenting with the use of these technologies … but it’s clear that without appropriate safeguards and oversight mechanisms, using A.I. in immigration and refugee determinations is very risky because the impact on people’s lives are quite real,” said Petra Molnar, one of the authors of the report.

“A.I. is not neutral. It’s kind of like a recipe and if your recipe is biased, the decision that the algorithm will make is also biased and difficult to challenge.”

Earlier this year, federal officials launched two pilot projects to have an A.I. system sort through temporary resident visa applications from China and India. Mathieu Genest, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen, says the analytics program helps officers triage online visa applications to “process routine cases more efficiently.”

He says the technology is being used exclusively as a “sorting mechanism” to help immigration officers deal with an ever-growing number of visitor visas from these countries by quickly identifying standard applications and flagging more complex files for review.

Immigration officers always make final decisions about whether to deny a visa, Genest says.

But this isn’t the only dive into artificial intelligence being spearheaded by the Immigration Department.

In April, the department started gauging interest from the private sector in developing other pilot projects involving A.I., or ”machine learning,” for certain areas of immigration law, including in humanitarian and compassionate applications, as well as pre-removal risk assessments.

These two refugee streams of Canada’s immigration system are often used as a last resort by vulnerable people fleeing violence and war to remain in Canada, the Citizen Lab report notes.

“Because immigration law is discretionary, this group is really the last group that should be subject to technological experiments without oversight,” Molnar says.

She notes that A.I. has a “problematic track record” when it comes to gender and race, specifically in predictive policing that has seen certain groups over-policed.

“What we are worried about is these types of biases are going to be imported into this high risk laboratory of immigration decision-making.”

The government says officials are only interested developing or acquiring a tool to help Immigration and Justice Department officials manage litigation and develop legal advice in immigration law.

“The intent is to support decision makers in their work and not replace them,” Genest said.

“We are monitoring and assessing the results and success of these pilots before we launch or consider expanding it to other countries and lines of business.”

In April, Treasury Board released a white paper on “responsible artificial intelligence in the government of Canada,” and is currently consulting with stakeholders to develop a draft directive on the use of automated decision-making technologies within government.

Molnar says she hopes officials will consider the Citizenship Lab’s research and recommendations, including their call for an independent, arms-length oversight body to monitor and review the use of A.I. decision-making systems.

“We are beyond the conversation whether or not A.I. is being used. The question is, if A.I. is here to stay we want to make sure it is done right.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Ponoka County fire crews handle second baler fire in 12 hours

Fire crews handled a baler fire just west of Gull Lake

Red Deer RCMP ask for assistance to ID suspect in indecent acts

The suspect exposed himself to a woman and made sexual comments to her

WCPS uses cannabis legislation to fully review drug, alcohol and tobacco policies

Cannabis is not permitted in schools; WCPS focused on providing education and support

Puff, puff, pass: Cannabis is officially legal across Canada

Alberta readies itself for cannabis sales with 17 stores (for now) and a new provincial website

Ponoka mayor & council takes on province for recreation funding

Mayor Rick Bonnett wants school requisition for three years

Fashion Fridays: You can never have enough shoes

Kim XO, lets you know the best online shopping tips during Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Canada not sending anyone to Saudi business summit

Sources insist Ottawa never intended to dispatch a delegation this time around

Earthquake early-warning sensors installed off coast of B.C.

The first-of-its kind warning sensors are developed by Ocean Networks Canada

VPD ordered to co-operate with B.C. police watchdog probe

According to the IIO, a court is ordering Vancouver police to co-operate with an investigation into a fatal shooting

Canada’s top general takes aim at new reports of military sexual assault

Gen. Jonathan Vance is unhappy some troops continue to ignore his order to cease all sexual misconduct

Trio of Saint Bernard find their ‘forever home’ after story goes viral

Edmonton Humane Society had put out the call to adopt Gasket, Gunther and Goliath

Nova Scotia fixes online workaround of age requirement for cannabis sales

The problem popped up hours after the use of cannabis became legal

Carr, Morneau off to China next month to deepen commerce

Carr says Canada and China aren’t embarking on formal free trade talks

Most Read